THAT the ‘nations’ of the Americas about which Bruce Pascoe carelessly writes in today’s Fairfax numbers were indeed barbarous cannot be denied. It is sad to contemplate the hardships endured by peoples so rudely bested by more advanced civilisations. Death by disease, the abuse of women, the eradication of admirable custom and the ignorant disregard of native genius – all tragedies. But there isn’t one of us whose ancestors somewhere (or even grandparents) did not live through such trials. Old though the New World itself is now growing, the only question that matters today is whether the Christian new, as portended by the ships of Columbus (and Cook), is morally and materially superior to the Edens of unreason it forever altered. Nobody seriously denies the answer to that question is yes. The No case is nothing more than romantic showboating.
Alexander VI never wrote anything called The Doctrine of Discovery. He promulgated Inter Caetera in 1493 for the purpose of bringing order – and, yes, a missionary zeal – to a process of colonisation and ‘conquest’ that the great powers of the day were steadfastly committed to pursuing, regardless of what any pope decreed. While it’s true the discovery doctrine (subsequently formalised over the next few centuries) did sanction the usurpation of non-Christian “barbarous nations” (and only these nations), the more lurid claim that Pope Alexander breezily authorised the killing of Indigenes in Inter Caetera is a complete fabrication.